Oral History of Empires by Elders in the Arctic - ORHELIA
The Orhelia project develops a comparative history of relations between remote people and states in the eyes of Arctic indigenous elders, by using the method of life history analysis and oral history fieldwork combined with anthropological participant observation. Doing so, the project will also contribute to preserve incorporeal cultural heritage among Uralic speaking northern minorities of Europe and study the transmission of historical heritage between different generations.
The project is funded by the Research Council for Society and Culture at the Academy of Finland.
Assessing senses of place, mobility and viability in industrial northern communities (BOREAS - MOVE INNOCOM, 2006-2010). The project undertook a comparative analysis of mobility and settlement in and around communities of industrial workers in Northwest Russia/Siberia.
I am close to finishing my work in project that started in July, 2003, where we investigate, in an interdisciplinary way, the possible effects of climate change in the Russian part of the Barents Region, Northeast Europe. The project is part of a large EU-funded research program called "BALANCE". The anthropological part of the project deals with social vulnerabilities and the perception of nature by the local reindeer herding population. The research focuses on ways how tundra residents relate to their land and how they enact their knowledge about the environment in their everday and long-term reindeer herding decisions. Where as the so-called TEK (traditional ecological knowledge) often focuses on peoples’ knowledge of vegetation in the first place, a broader definition is applied in this case. Important here are the reindeer herders’ knowledge of the weather, of various animals in their interaction with plants and humans, of anthropogenic factors influencing the environment such as the extraction of mineral resources, and of the topography of the land used by them in comparison to the land used by neighbouring groups.
Driving with reindeer across the tundra as a way of interaction with the land.
Nikolai Vylko, NAO, 2005
These ecological views are analysed along with the present social conditions, which are directly related to the break up of the Soviet Union over ten years ago. Here, the main focus is on problems related to the loss of mobility of the reindeer herders, their families being torn apart between villages and the tundra, difficulties in implementing a market economy, and the unstable property relations that occur when former collective farms compete with newly evolving private reindeer herding enterprises. Thus, this is an integrated approach to the reindeer herders’ perceptions of change and their possible responses to them. When we integrate the data on vegetation change along with the social factors, we make a contribution to a future integrated assessment model for the Barents Sea region.
Reindeer herders came to the gas town of Nadym in march 2005
My work in the ENSINOR project at the Arctic Centre takes this interdisciplinary approach further to encompass effects of and responses to social and economic change in the Arctic. In ENSINOR, we compare the interaction between oil and gas industry and reindeer herding in two northern Russian regions and combine this with an analysis of efffects of natural change, including climate, in these regions. The anthropological work also encompasses an analysis of on the ground relations between oil and gas workers and reindeer herders, which often reveal dynamics that are quite different from the officially known interactions between companies, herding enterprises, and the administration. More on ENSINOR can be found on the website of that project.
Reindeer herders meet convoys of industrial workers in a gas extracting
region, Yamal, march 2005.
Fieldwork forms the most important part of the research work of an anthropologist who tries to participate in the lives of the population he studies, while at the same time observing them from an academic point of view. Due to the focus of my research on the interaction between reindeer nomads and their surroundings, I undertook extended fieldwork in various regions of Northern Russia. Important for a better understanding of the local social dynamics is switching the lines, which means working and migrating with the reindeer herders, living with administrators in villages, with gas workers on drilling stations, with traders in towns, and also talking to regional politicians about their views and initiatives to stabilise arctic reindeer economies. Another important aspect of my partnership with the population of the region is not only to engage in extracting information from them, but to engage in an exchange with them, and to reach an optimal level of transparency of my research. I will have engagements with the local media (TV, radio, newspaper) to explain my research, as well as sharing other information and videotapes with local people who are interested.
Fieldwork carried out in:
- 2005: Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, West Siberia, Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Northeast Europe, Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), Russia.
- 2004: Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, West Siberia, Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Northeast Europe, Russia
- 2003: Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Northeast Europe, Russia
- 2000-2001: Yamal Nenets Autonomous Okrug, West Siberia and Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), Russia
- 1998: Khanty Mansiisk Autonomous Okrug and Yamal Nenets Autonomous Okrug, West Siberia, Russia
Petr draws the yearly movement of herd and camp on a map, NAO 2005
Information on previous projects is available online at: